Dewey on Seriousness, Playfulness and the Role of the Teacher
AbstractThe chapter that John Dewey dedicates to consideration of play and work in the curriculum in Democracy and Education echoes his thoughts on the same subject in How We Think, which preceded Democracy and Education by six years. Dewey closes How We Think with a more expansive treatment of the topic and is keen not only to recast the traditional dichotomy of work and play as distinct kinds of educational activity but to challenge the hierarchical status of the accompanying mental states of seriousness and playfulness. Dewey argues that a combination of playfulness and seriousness represents the ideal mental attitude of the artist: teaching is an art, therefore the teacher is an artist and the ideal mental attitude of the teacher to his or work combines the playful and the serious. It is the task of the teacher to inculcate such habits of mind in his or her students for whom it is implicitly the ideal mental state for learning. It is in the light of this that we should understand what characterises play and work as features of educational activity. Consideration of what Dewey meant is accompanied by an example from contemporary educational practice intended to illustrate Dewey’s sense of purposeful activity in which a playful approach creates the kind of embodied experience that will help students to achieve desired educational outcomes. This will lead to reflection on how the role of the teacher as an artist might be conceived, resisting both the temptation towards an instrumental characterisation of playfulness derived from the application of discoveries in cognitive science to classroom practice and goal-directed notions of seriousness. I will argue that alongside the conventional classroom skills of the teacher, what is required is an authentic presence that is attuned to the nature of what is being taught, together with a concern for the outcomes to be achieved. Such an attunement would allow for playfulness and humour as well as seriousness. It is an attunement between both the individual and others in mutuality and with him or herself. These thoughts will be developed via extended reflection upon two scenes from Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (2006). These scenes draw attention to the importance of conversation for both the teacher/student relationship and as a medium for playful and serious exploration of academic content. If we only think of the Deweyan attitude of the artist in an impersonal sense then the kind of seriousness that is internal to the personal expression of claims about art, ethics, morality, politics, even history, remains unheard, at least in an educational context. It is to this that I turn through consideration of conversation and mutuality in the work of Stanley Cavell via Michael Oakeshott’s observations about seriousness and playfulness in conversation and further comments offered by Paul Standish on what it means to say something. View Full-Text
Share & Cite This Article
Skilbeck, A. Dewey on Seriousness, Playfulness and the Role of the Teacher. Educ. Sci. 2017, 7, 16.
Skilbeck A. Dewey on Seriousness, Playfulness and the Role of the Teacher. Education Sciences. 2017; 7(1):16.Chicago/Turabian Style
Skilbeck, Adrian. 2017. "Dewey on Seriousness, Playfulness and the Role of the Teacher." Educ. Sci. 7, no. 1: 16.
Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.